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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 14 Arizona football to face No. 12 Oklahoma in Valero Alamo Bowl

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Kohichiro Yamada
Arizona football’s Treydan Stukes (2) enlivens fans on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Arizona Stadium. The football team beat the No. 16 University of Utah 42-18.

In what is arguably the best non-New Year’s Six bowl game, the No. 14 Arizona football team will head to San Antonio to face off against the No. 12 University of Oklahoma in the 2023 Valero Alamo Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 7:15 p.m. in the Alamodome. Despite both teams finishing in third place in their respective conferences, the Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 in Pac-12) are coming off their best season in almost a decade on the eve of the move to the Big 12, while the Sooners (10-2, 7-2 in Big 12) are looking to make some noise ahead of their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Who’s playing?

Both teams will be facing significant losses on the offensive side of the ball, with none more consequential than that of Oklahoma starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel entered the transfer portal on Monday, Dec. 4, and he announced on Saturday, Dec. 9, that he would be transferring to the University of Oregon. He will not suit up against the Wildcats and it is presumed that freshman Jackson Arnold will take over as signal-caller.

Arizona standout offensive tackle Jordan Morgan has already announced his intentions to sit the game out while he prepares for the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the 2024 NFL draft, where he’s projected to go in the second round and as high as the end of the first. The local product, who went to high school in nearby Marana, Arizona, has spent four years with the team and is one of the key reasons Arizona first-year starting quarterback Noah Fifita was able to keep his jerseys so clean. Wide receiver Jacob Cowing’s status remains uncertain, considering he has also accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl.

History vs. Oklahoma

This is the third meeting between the Wildcats and the Sooners, and the first showdown since a home-and-home series between the two schools over 30 years ago.

The first game between the two teams was played in Norman, Oklahoma, in the 1988 season where the Wildcats were dealt a 28-10 defeat. However, the 1989 matchup at Arizona Stadium saw the Wildcats stun No. 6 Oklahoma. In a defensive slugfest, a game-winning field goal sealed a 6-3 Arizona win. This was one of four AP Top 25 wins for the Wildcats in the 1989 season en route to a win over North Carolina State University in the 1989 Copper Bowl – which was played at Arizona Stadium.

Oklahoma’s season

The Sooners – alongside the University of Texas at Austin – were the first dominoes to fall in the most recent round of college football conference realignment. Oklahoma and Texas announced intentions to move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference in 2021, with a target initially set for the 2025 season. Things have accelerated in the two years since, and the Sooners and Longhorns will be joining the SEC at the start of the 2024 season. 

Oklahoma ended the regular season 10-2, with the only two losses coming against the University of Kansas and Big 12 conference runner-up Oklahoma State University. The biggest win on the schedule was the 34-30 win over playoff-bound and then-No. 3 Texas in the Red River Rivalry at a “neutral” site in Dallas in Week 6

The Sooners have spent the entirety of the season inside of the AP Top 25, starting at No. 20 in Week 1 and peaking at No. 6 in Weeks 7 and 8. After falling short in back-to-back road games to the upstart Kansas and No. 22 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series, Oklahoma fell back down to earth with a No. 17 ranking in Week 11 ahead of the game against West Virginia University. A three-game win streak to end the regular season planted the Sooners at No. 12 heading into bowl season.

One of the biggest reasons for the Sooners’ success this season has been their passing attack. Wide receivers Drake Stoops, Nic Anderson and Jalil Farooq all finished with over 600 receiving yards. Stoops solidified himself as the primary option, leading the team with 78 receptions (second in Big 12) for 880 yards (third in Big 12) and a conference-leading 10 touchdowns. Anderson emerged as a big-play threat and amassed 725 yards and nine touchdowns on a mere 31 catches for a conference-leading 23.4 yards per catch. Farooq, who posted 637 yards and two scores while being the third read, was the most productive WR3 in the conference.

Wildcats to watch

Oklahoma’s potent offense will mean that Arizona needs to play up to the Sooners’ speed and stay hot when they have the ball. Fifita was thrust into the starting role as a redshirt freshman  after an ankle injury to previous starter Jayden de Laura, and he has exceeded all expectations by a country mile by securing the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award. Fifita’s season included a pair of five-touchdown games, the second of which came paired with a school-record 527 passing yards against ASU in the season finale. He has shown that he is the future for the Wildcats, and a winning performance in Arizona’s first bowl game in six years will solidify his starting role beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan burst onto the scene this season as well. When he flipped from the University of Oregon to Arizona on Dec. 18, 2021, he was the highest-rated recruit in program history. His first season was productive, where he posted a team-leading eight touchdowns on 702 receiving yards. This year, he leads the Wildcats with 1,242 yards and is second in touchdowns with 10. He was the primary beneficiary of Fifita’s record-setting day, posting 266 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. This is the second-highest total in a single game in program history, behind only Jeremy McDaniel’s 283-yard day against the University of California Berkeley in 1996.

On the defensive side of the ball, cornerbacks Treydan Stukes, Ephesians Prysock, Tacario Davis and Dylan Wyatt will have their hands full with Oklahoma’s three-headed monster of wideouts. Stukes, as the veteran, will likely be facing Stoops in man-to-man coverage. Prysock and Davis, as the tallest players in the cornerback room, will be tasked with coverage on the 6-foot-4 Anderson. Davis and Wyatt, being lower on the depth chart, will likely handle coverage on Farooq. Davis has shown an ability to get his hands on the ball, with 16 passes broken up including an interception on the season. Stukes, Prysock and Davis all secured an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Linebacker Jacob Manu will hold down his spot as the heart and soul of the defense. He filled up the stat sheet while roaming the middle of the field and created numerous impact plays. The sophomore was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team after leading the conference in total tackles (108) and tackles per game (nine). He also tallied 6.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception. 


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